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  • Last modified 134 days ago (Aug. 2, 2017)

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Think your garden is work?

Consider what gardening is like at Jirak Brothers Produce

Staff writer

Up to 2,000 tomato plants planted this spring in hoop houses on the Jirak Brothers Produce farm in rural Tampa are nearing peak production this week.

Jirak’s niece, Heidi Jirak, works every weekday from sunup to mid-morning, harvesting the deep red fruits, some weighing as much as 1½ pounds.

She’s become so attached to them that she refers to them as “guys.” The maximum she has picked in one day is 400 pounds.

The hoop houses provide drip irrigation from above and soaker hoses on the ground. The plants are mulched with straw.

There’s no climate control, but the hoop roof does provide some protection from frost in early spring, Jirak said. One hoop house lost its skin in a June windstorm and had to be replaced.

A small field of 500 has been planted for fall harvest.

Jirak Brothers Produce was founded in the mid-1970s by brothers Ron, Steve, Mark, and Greg.

“We just kind of grew into it,” Ron Jirak said, “because our father, Leo, grew watermelons that we distributed to the neighbors. Nobody told my dad the Depression was over. It was the way he always lived. We learned not to waste anything and work hard.”

Ron and his wife, Rose, now own the business. Ron’s brothers help whenever they have time.

Steve Jirak was helping at the farm Friday morning before going to his job as mail carrier for Ramona and Tampa. Greg Jirak came from western Kansas to help transport bins to and from fields.

Ron Jirak was overseeing a crew that arrived at work at 6 a.m. and kept at it until noon, harvesting sweet corn, cantaloupe, watermelons, and cucumbers.

Driving into the farmyard, customers can spot binsful of watermelon and sweet corn sitting under shade trees. Inside a small shed, cantaloupe, cucumbers, and tomatoes are available to bag and pay for on the spot. Prices are listed on a whiteboard.

Produce also is sold at Marion Farm and Art Market, local food stores, and throughout central Kansas.

Later on this year, pumpkins, squash, and gourds will be available.

The 100 acre-farm is as large as it will ever be, Jirak said. At age 59, he’s thinking about scaling back.

He’s worried about regulations coming down the pike in the name of food safety, which he said will not increase product safety but will increase his costs.

The Federal Department of Agriculture has finalized a produce safety rule that will take effect next year with technical requirements for planting, growing, and harvesting.

Smaller producers won’t be affected, and large producers can afford it, but intermediate businesses like his will be hurt, Jirak said.

He doesn’t foresee the business being passed on to the next generation.

“It’s too much work,” he said.

Last modified Aug. 2, 2017

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